Paris Rally Against the Death Penalty in the United States

Pressure on the US to Free Mumia exists throughout Europe. This is a poster from Berlin.
Photo: Flickr.com/jcrakow

by Rukmini Mahurkar

Co-written by Catherine Laserwitz

PARIS. —Who would have thought that a small but dedicated group of Parisians would gather together on a chilly, Wednesday night to rally from the freedom of an imprisoned American?

Mumia Abu-Jamal, a political activist and radio journalist from Philadelphia, was involved in African-American civil rights in the 1970s and was a member of the Black Panthers. He was imprisoned and sentenced to death 30 years ago for the murder of a police officer named Daniel Faulkner but earlier this year was taken off death row. 30 years after the sentencing, activists from several different organizations gathered in front of the American Embassy to spread awareness about what they argue to be an unjust sentence for an innocent man.

One of the protesters explained that what drew her there was not solely the case of Abu-Jamal, but a hope to end the death penalty in all countries. The gatheringcomprised of three large banners: one dedicated to Abu-Jamal, another to George Peltier, and the third bearing slogans for the movement uniting their causes and spearheading the rally for the end of the death penalty worldwide.

Primarily because of the irreversibility of its consequences if the accused turns out to be innocent, the death penalty, peine de mort in French, attracts a great deal of controversy all over the world. Illegal in France since 1977, capital punishment is no longer used in any developed country except the United States, where Abu-Jamal was found guilty of killing the police officer.

On December 9, 1981 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Faulkner of the Philadelphia Police Department pulled over Abu-Jamal’s younger brother for a traffic violation. Abu-Jamal was seen running to the traffic stop, where there was an exchange of fire resulting in an injury to Abu-Jamal, and death to Faulkner. Abu-Jamal was wearing a shoulder holster, a spent revolver lying next to him, when he was rushed to a hospital where he was treated for his gunshot wounds.

Found guilty of murder by a unanimous jury and placed on death row, Abu-Jamal has since relentlessly insisted on his innocence, citing inconsistencies in his trial, the inadequacy of his lawyer, and a witness’s sighting of an unknown man who may have been the culprit running away from the scene of the crime.

Political pressure and financial aid from liberation movements specifically focused on Abu-Jamal have had a great impact on his case—he was removed from death row in January 2012. However, he still faces spending the rest of his life in prison without the possibility of parole, meaning that activist groups protesting his innocence will continue to form rallies such as this one for his liberation.

The growing unpopularity of the death sentence in the United States coupled with his activism has made his case one that strikes a chord with some people, particularly activists and those on college campuses. Similar protests in the US have attracted the likes of Cornel West, who spoke to a crowd of over 1,000 in Philadelphia in 2011.

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